MANCHESTER United are heavy favourites to defeat Newcastle United in tomorrow’s Carabao League Cup final at London’s Wembley Stadium. But will they?
If there is one thing we can be certain of, it is that both clubs will be desperate to win, with Newcastle perhaps a little more so than the Red Devils.
The Magpies have not won a trophy since 1969, when they triumphed in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, now known as the Uefa Europa League.
The last time Newcastle were in a domestic cup final was the 1999 FA Cup final, and on that occasion they were humbled by tomorrow’s opposition.
While there may not be too many among the Toon Army in the stadium tomorrow who will have first-hand recollections of that defeat, they will believe a bit of revenge will not be misplaced.
Man United, as successful as they were until a decade ago, have not won a meaningful piece of silverware in six years.
And given the size of the club and their ambition, that is indeed a rather long time.
In fact, the last time Old Trafford went six years without a trophy was 40 years ago, when Big Ron Atkinson ended the drought with the FA Cup in 1983.
Man United’s last trophy was the 2017 Uefa Europa League, which they have Jose Mourinho to thank for, after they secured it at the expense of Dutch side Ajax at Friends Arena in Stockholm.
The odds have heavily tilted Man United’s way for showdown for a number of reasons, but none more so than the fact that Newcastle will be without their first-choice goalkeeper, Nick Pope. He is suspended after being sent off against Liverpool last weekend.
Man United can also look to an in-form Marcus Rashford for inspiration, as well as to Bruno Fernandes, who is close to playing some of his best football yet.
But perhaps more importantly, Casemiro’s return to domestic competition and the fact that this team is now playing with the kind of chemistry that champions have, make them tough to beat.
It’s the momentum that Newcastle might find the toughest to overcome.
On Thursday, Man United came from behind to beat Barcelona 2-1 in the second leg of their Europa League clash to win 4-3 on aggregate to reach the round of 16.
Still, with Eddie Howe and a team that is transitioning to become one of England’s best, the underdogs should look at this final as a chance to make a statement.
They have done so to some degree with their climb into the top four of the Premier League, and while it is nowhere near finished, Newcastle have made a case for them to be taken seriously, even by the staunchest of the Red Devils.
The emergence of Miguel Almiron, not just a midfielder or winger who has panache going forward but one who has also developed a deadly eye for goal, could be their trump card.
The Paraguayan, whose 10 league goals this season outweigh those in his previous three seasons (eight), should be more than enough to convince Erik ten Hag that he’ll be one to watch rather closely.
Callum Wilson and Joelinton could also feature prominently if given space.
Newcastle’s main concern appears to be Loris Karius. But despite this and not playing top-level football for some two years, the Magpies’ reserve goalkeeper has been given the public backing of Howe, who called on the German to make a name for himself.
It has been a big task for him to live down his blunders in Liverpool’s 2018 Champions League final defeat, but he could save some face with a telling contribution.
And as we all know, cup finals sometimes turn the form book upside down and throw up an upset every now and then.
Could this be one of them, leading to the demise of Man United? Many doubt it, but tomorrow will tell.